Watchmaking Still a Viable Industry

Watchmaking Still a Viable Industry

Sara Plummer

OKMULGEE — The School of Watchmaking, one of the oldest programs at Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology, graduated six students Dec. 12.

This class was one of the largest in recent years, but the job market needs many more watchmakers, Program Chairman Jason Champion said.

“The watchmaking industry is still a viable industry,” Champion said. “There are still many, many watches out there that need repairs.”

Only seven schools in the U.S. offer a watchmaking program at a time when a lot of watchmakers are retiring, he said.

The career can be gratifying to people who are visually oriented, spatially oriented, patient and meticulous, Champion said.

This year’s graduates came to OSUIT from far and near.

Christopher Milton’s great-great-grandfather was a watchmaker, so when he learned about OSUIT’s program on a watchmaking blog, he decided to check it out.

“This school had the best facilities and the best reputation,” said Milton, of Mobile, Ala. “I come from an engineering background. I’ve always enjoyed tinkering, building things, taking things apart. Engineering just wasn’t hands-on enough for me.”

David Threlkeld is another self-proclaimed tinkerer who is turning a hobby into a career.

“I’ve always collected watches. I was living in New Zealand, and I had to get a watch fixed, and no one there could fix it. I had to send it back to Switzerland, and it cost me $4,000 to get repaired, so I thought, ‘I’m in the wrong business,’” he said.

Kansan Marty Gorman worked most of his adult life in the auto industry until the recession eliminated his job in 2010.

“At first I tried to find a job in my field. I did some Internet searches, and I found OSUIT,” Gorman said. “I collected watches and bought watches. I thought what if I could turn that into a career?”

Jan Knisley has a similar story. He worked in construction in Ohio until a back injury took him out of the field, so he looked at his enthusiasm for watches as a possible career change.

“Being able to learn about something that I have a real interest in and the craft aspect of watchmaking really appealed to me,” Knisley said.

Jennifer Yang and Daniel Fox, both of Oklahoma City, didn’t have to search far to find the training.

All said the rigorous two-year program was challenging and more demanding than they imagined.

Yang — who already had bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice and forensic science, along with a minor in biochemistry, from the University of Central Oklahoma — said she wanted to test herself and push herself.

“This program is harder than my bachelor’s degree program,” she said. “It’s very time-intensive when you have to learn these skills and develop them.”

Milton said it’s all about getting your head — not just your hands — used to the watchmaking work environment of micro-technology.

“It’s more a mindset than a skill set. You can learn a skill set, but you have to have a certain kind of mindset to do this. There is a certain amount of patience you have to have,” he said.